PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The dead overwhelmed the General Hospital morgue, and the injured outnumbered doctors and nurses Thursday as rescue workers from across the globe struggled to reach Haiti and distribute much-needed food, water and medical supplies.
At the morgue, police, civilians and private contractors clearing rubble were forced to leave corpses in piles outside the facility, where survivors searched among the dead for their loved ones.
The Haitian Red Cross estimates the number of deaths at between 45,000 and 50,000, and there appear to be few places to store or bury the bodies.
The General Hospital morgue has no working generator, and Haitians have been recovering bodies and putting them in the back of pickup trucks or piling them onto sidewalks.
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Since late Wednesday, about 60 dump trucks have circulated the city collecting the dead and taking them to the landfill.
Haiti President Rene Preval estimated 7,000 bodies were removed from the streets of the capital.
On Thursday, the mayor of Port-au-Prince said he wanted to bury more than 100 bodies in the city cemetery but he struggled to find equipment to allow him to dig a mass grave big enough to fit them all.
Guy LaRoche, manager of the General Hospital, ran out of space to store the dead.
"We have about 2,000 dead bodies so far — on the floor outside," LaRoche said. "We don't have the authorization from the government to take the bodies out of here. We are the hospital — everyone brings the bodies here. The morgue is full."
The injured also went to the hospital, where they pitched makeshift tents outside and waited for help. Many were wrapped in bloodied bandages and bound in cardboard splints.
LaRoche said the hospital was understaffed and running out of water.
"Everything is going wrong," he said. "We have nothing. The problem is the employees. I normally have about 150 doctors. Today, I do not have 20. They have families, too."
As corpses were laid on the street, a small group of solemn onlookers watched. One woman waited beside a pine box, trying to find her loved one.
One woman's body had a red ribbon and a handwritten name tag tied to her left big toe.
Lionel Gaedi went to the morgue to find his brother, Josef.
"I don't see him," Gaedi said. "It's a catastrophe. God gives, God takes."
Gaedi looked at the mass of bodies exposed to the blazing sun and gave up, sure that he would never find his brother in the pile.
Canadian medical consultant Yuri Zelenski said he was working with local authorities to find a solution to the morgue's overcrowding.
"I have never been to anything like this," Zelenski said as he looked on in disgust. "I am shocked. I am short for words. These are hundreds of people, not buried. The morgue here was not designed for such a disaster."
At Canape Vert hospital, women and babies wailed in pain while a single doctor tended to them.
"My wife! My wife!" a man shouted to anyone who walked past. He pointed to his wife, Mirlaine Michel, who had lost a foot.
Meanwhile, many on the island waited for help to arrive from the many nations that have pledged aid but found it difficult to reach those who need it most.
The Associated Press reported rescue crews encountering bottlenecks at Port-au-Prince's main airport, Toussaint L'Ouverture, which was short on jet fuel and ramp space and operating without a control tower.
President Obama, who pledged $100 million in aid to Haiti, said U.S. troops were on their way in what he called "one of the largest relief efforts in history."
The first of 800 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division were to deploy to Haiti from North Carolina, to be followed by more than 2,000 Marines.
But aid has been slowed by blocked roads and damage to the airport and seaport. The United Nations, which traditionally coordinates relief efforts, has been devastated by the earthquake, adding to the difficulty of distributing international aid.
The Haiti headquarters of the U.N. collapsed in the earthquake, killing at least three dozen workers. Another 200 are reported missing, including the mission chief.
Complicating the rescue efforts Thursday afternoon was a shutdown of the Port-au-Prince airport to all but military flights, freezing efforts by relief agencies to get supplies into Haiti by private cargo planes.
An Amerijet cargo plane that left Miami International Airport for Port-au-Prince was forced to land in the Dominican Republic after getting word midflight that it would not be able to land in Haiti.
The city's principal seaport is also thought to be too damaged to accept cargo ships.
Fear of aftershocks
With aftershocks still rocking the city, many Haitians decided to sleep outside Wednesday night.
At the Kinam Hotel, where guests were paying more than $150 a night, many opted to sleep on the grass rather than in their rooms.
Across the street in St. Pierre's Plaza, hundreds, possibly thousands, camped out, singing hymns overnight.
"God, you are the one who gave me life," they sang. "Why are we suffering?"
In Geneva, the U.N. said damage to Haiti's port is preventing ship deliveries and the airport is struggling to handle dozens of incoming flights.
A Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based shipper said the cargo cranes along Haiti's principal pier had tumbled into the water.
Relief agencies have tons of supplies ready to go, but are waiting for assurances the material will get to victims efficiently in Port-au-Prince.
On Thursday morning, American Airlines landed a passenger plane filled with food, soap, diapers and other relief supplies for its employees and civilians in Port-au-Prince, a spokeswoman said. But a second flight has been delayed and a third canceled once the U.S. military sent word that the airport was restricting traffic, American spokeswoman Martha Pantin said.